Discussion on Identity in Community

This article is an investigation into the notion of identity as explored in Information Age Vol.II : The Power of Identity.

This is the second of  three volumes on the ‘Information Age’ by Manual Castells. Follow this link to read the review of the first volume here

Manual Castells – Information Age, Vol II. The Power of Identity:


The source of meaning and experience as Castells suggests, can be see as a confluence of many flows of constructed and lived experience. We can see the parallels in the construction of self and identity across cultures as lives expressed, lived and experienced.

In Social Theory and the Politics of Identity, it is put aptly that:

We know no people without names, no languages or cultures in which some manner off distinctions between self and other, we and they, are not made…Self-knowledge- always a construction no matter how much it feels like a discovery- is never altogether separable from claims to be known in specific ways by others. Calhoun (1994:9-10).

 What we do, the stories we tell, our identities manifest again through our cultural experiences & participation. From the micro to macro level, personal expressions to cultural institutions or political bodies, all engage in the process of identity formation.

Certain experiences, sets of cultural attributes and their related cultural meanings enact a process of construction of plural meanings and sources for meaning for an individual.

This negotiation, Giddens (1991) argues is a process of Individuation, whereby identity-sources for an individual will have a relative weight in influence and corresponds to the individuals ability to extrapolate meaning through of process of internalisation and constructed meaning.

With a focus on collective identities, Castells stresses what he suggests is The Power of Identity. While institutions with experiences and narrative engage an individual, they are more defined as ‘roles’, their potence of influence or an individual’s level of investment is weak when compared to ‘Identities’, which have a much larger value for an individual to engage meaning.  Indeed we can see the corresponding value negotiation in peoples lives today, such as the role and meaning of the citizen/consumer/worker in negotiation with the identity and meaning of mother/father/carer.

The social construction of identity always takes place in a context marked by power relationships, in negotiation with individuals, looking to engage individuals for investment in various symbolic contexts. Castells (2010: 8-9) proposes a distinction between three forms of identity building.

Legitimizing identity

Present in the established dominant institutions of society. These legitimising identities by their existence extend and continue to rationalize their position through a process of action of social actors.  For Castells it generates a civil society; that is a set of organisations and institutions as well as a series of structures and organised social actors, which reproduce, albeit in a somewhat conflictive manner, the identity that rationalises the sources of structural domination.

Antonio Gramsci’s original conception of civil society has parallels with Castells notion, still the inherent dynamic of the dominant structures (churches, parties, unions & civic associations) employing various apparatuses of identity construction illustrates the continuity between civil societies institutions and the power apparatuses of the state organised around similar identities (citizenship, democracy; the politicisation of social change, the confinement of power to the state and its ramifications) Castells 2010. p.9.

Theorists Gransci, de Tocqueville see democracy and civility, Foucault and Sennet and Horkheimer and Marcuse see internalized domination and legitimation of an over-imposed, undifferentiated, normalising identity.

The vulnerability of power to the continuity of identity between State and society allows for the transition of power, identity and society and consequently their apparatuses. That is, if there is continuity.

Resistance Identities

These identities appear to use a zoological term, subdominant to institutions and major apparatuses of power. Identity of resistance is built for resistance, the rejection of the logic ‘their’ domination; this forms communes and communities of collective resistance. Operating through this resistance for survival on a basis of difference from, or opposed to those permeating the institutions of society. Actors of this resistance identity still have apparatuses for generating symbolic contexts and meaning.

Castells (p.8) dubs it ‘The exclusion of the excluders by the excluded’ and refers this construction to Calhoun (1994. p.17) and the emergence of identity politics.

The defensive identities in opposition to the dominate institution/ideologies reverse their value judgement while reinforcing the reinforcing the boundary. Here there is a blurry line at which Castells points to empirical or historical specific answers about whether this identity is isolationist and fragmentary or it engages within a larger social, power or communicative network. It’s a question of information flow.

Project Identities

Castells points to the example of feminism. As feminism moved from the trenches of a resistance identity, standing for women’s identity and rights towards an overall structural change which challenged patriarchal hegemony and it’s components of production, reproduction, sexuality and personality.

Drawing from Alain Touraine (1995) Castells suggests the project identity, produces subjects. Yet subjects are not individuals, they are the collective social actor through which individuals reach holistic meaning in their experience (Touraine 1992).

The subject of the project identity is building an identity as a project of a different life, towards a transformation of society.  Subjects act, with whatever cultural materials are available, to build a new identity that redefines their position and values in society.

Answers for how these identity projects are constructed, lay in historical and social contexts.

Yet Castells refers to Giddens (1991) notion of identity in ‘late-modernity’ to tie into the transformations in the Network Age. Late-modernity identity in one in which‘self-identity is not a distinctive trait possessed by the individual, It is the self reflexively understood by the person in terms of their biography.” Giddens suggests that in the context of the post –traditional order, the self becomes a reflective project (p.32-55).

One of the distinctive features of modernity is an increasing interconnection between the two extremes of extensionality and intentionality: globalising influences on the one had and personal dispositions on the other…The more traditional loses it hold and the more daily life is reconstituted in terms of dialectical interplay of the local and the global, the more individuals are forced to negotiate lifestyle choices among a diversity of options… Reflexivity organised life planning… becomes a central features of the structuring of self-identity.

In the preface to Castells’ 2010 publication, Information Age Vol III End of Millennium he acknowledges the need for further investigation into the relationship between reactive and proactive social movements. He suggests that understanding the transition from resistance identity to project identity was based on the assumption of implicit assumption that cultural communes and resistance identity come first, followed by a nurturing of projects identity as a second stage.

Acknowledging a tentative hypothesis he suggests that these transformations occur by proposing new cultural codes with the ability to transform society. This in essence defines it as a cultural movement. The key point here is communication; the networks of information (from mass media to mass self-communication) have been labelled as the domain of emergence for this construction.



Calhoun (1994:9-10) Social Theory and the Politics of Identity . Oxford Blackwell 1994

Giddens, Anthony. 1985. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism:  Vol.II  The Nation State & Violence.

Castells (2010: 8-9)

Castells (2010: 8-9) citing Buci–Glucksman, Christine (1978). Gramsci et l’etat. Paris Grasset.

Touraine (1995) La formation de sujet, in Dubet and Wieorka (eds), pp.21-46.  

Touraine (1992) Critique de  la modernite. Paris. Fayard.